Every franchise goes through decline, its the nature of the NBA in the salary cap era. For two seasons, following the Lakers’ surprising defeat at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 playoffs, the Lakers tried to remain competitive in the Western Conference while retaining financial flexibility. Two playoff appearances resulted, but it was clear that they lacked youth, athleticism and depth.
This season there were no expectations for the Lakers. The roster cobbled together by the front office was a mixture of former stars near the end of their careers,young former lottery picks on cheap contracts, and last chance players looking to stick in the NBA. In most cases, that is a recipe for selfishness and dysfunction. To the credit of the coaching staff and organization, this has been one of the most harmonious locker rooms in recent Lakers history.
Unfortunately, the team isn’t very good.
With only 3 players under contract next season and Nick Young expected to opt out of his player option, change is coming to the Lakers in the offseason. While the team hasn’t performed well, there have been many individual bright spots. While most of Lakers Nation is focused on what free agents will be available in the offseason and which young star can be acquired in the draft, the front office also needs to identify who on the current roster is worth keeping going forward.
Kobe Bryant is excluded from the discussion for obvious reasons. Shawne Williams, who has already been waived by the Lakers, earlier this season, will be excluded as well.
Players To Keep
Kelly is a keeper. His game is not fully formed yet and he doesn’t quite play like the shooting specialist he might end up becoming. That’s a good thing. Kelly has shown an ability to put the ball on the floor, post up, and shoot the three. Defensively, while not a stopper, he has shown flashes of being solid. The Lakers should be able to sign him for about a $1 million. As a sniper off the bench or as 5th starter, Kelly gives the Lakers a stretch 4 that has to be guarded on the perimeter, with the potential to get significantly better over the next few years.
Resigning Farmar is a no brainer. He’s played well for the Lakers this year in all facets. His quickness, shooting ability, and aptitude running the pick and roll make him a serviceable starter next season if Mitch Kupchak is unable to acquire a star point guard. He could also handle his former role as an elite backup. While he should receive a bump in pay, he could be had for $2 million or so.
Nick Young has found himself a home. Young has played well this season and has shown that in the right role, he is a very effective player. As the designated scorer off the bench, he has provided consistent punch for a team lacking a definitive go to scorer. Next season, with a better starting lineup, Young could become a real difference maker. He has a player option with the team next season for $1.2 million but most assuredly will opt out of that deal. A deal for $3million per for 2 seasons might be enough to keep him, if he realizes that playing for the Lakers is the best situation for his career.
Finding Henry was like acquiring a mid 1st round pick for nothing. At just 22 years old, Henry has the potential to be a valuable role player and possible future starter with more development. He’s athletic, a good defender, and has shown an ability to hit an open jumper and consistently get to the line. He might have a few offers come his way this offseason, but as someone who has already bounced around the league and struggled for playing time, a short term deal with the Lakers for $2 million per would allow him to continue to grow into his potential.
Johnson will never be a superstar. At age 26, he is what he is. But you will be hard pressed to find a player of his talent at his price. Johnson is a versatile defender, a solid three point shooter, and an athletic finisher on the break. He could return as either a starter or bench player but he’s a glue type player that generally makes the right basketball play. As another player who has bounced around the league, Johnson seems a good bet to stay for about $3million per.
Kaman is a bonafide scorer at the center position. He can be a starter in short stints or featured player off the bench. At age 31, Kaman might begin to understand that his career as a full time starter are over, but re-signing him would allow the Lakers to pursue a defensive minded center, while still getting offensive production from that spot. Kaman is a strong threat to leave, but he gives the best value of all the Lakers big men currently on the roster.
Sacre has his limitations. He is not great around the rim, he’s still not a force protecting the rim but he has a good basketball i.q., a solid 12 foot jumper, and has shown improvement from year to year. Is he a third center, a primary backup, or someone potentially who can become a solid starter? Thats the question with him. Sacre is already under contract for one more year at $915,000 which makes him a bargain. It remains to be seen if he can turn into reliable player but, with a dearth of effective big men who come cheap, Sacre is worth having around for another year.
Thanks For The Memories
Gasol will one day have his jersey retired at Staples Center, but it will be shocking if he remains on the Lakers after the trading deadline, let alone the offseason. The Gasol era has run its course. He is still a very good player but his offensive skill is no longer enough to overcome his defensive liabilities. He will eventually end up being a valuable role player on a championship contender as the end of his career nears, but its best for all involved if his decline continues with another team.
Nash is under contract next season at a whopping $9 million. The Lakers’ brass has to hope he chooses to retire. Nash has returned to the court recently and has looked good at times, but his return has more the feel of a swan song on his own terms than a comeback for the future. At age 40, Nash has nothing to prove and will hopefully be satisfied with what he accomplished in a fruitful, legendary career.
Blake has played well this season, with a career high in assists and one of the best seasons of his career, but he has been injury prone with the Lakers and will be 34 next season. In addition, Blake makes $4 million a year. While he won’t get that this offseason, he likely will have options. For the Lakers, a young developmental point guard would be a better choice as a backup, kind of like what OKC has done with Reggie Jackson.
Saying goodbye to Hill is more about breaking up the D’Antoni -Hill dynamic than anything else. Hill has been incredibly inconsistent during his tenure, at times appearing to become a true force in the league and then reverting back to a journeyman type backup. Hill is one of the few players on the roster with league wide value and just enough of a salary to be a trade chip. He is a fan favorite and he could easily be resigned by the team, but something would have to change either with him or the coaching staff to get more consistent production.
Marshall is the feel good story of the season . A lottery pick just last season, Marshall found himself traded, waived, and toiling in the D-League just a few months later. He has played incredibly well for the Lakers since signing midseason. He has proven that he is an NBA player and even a starter under certain conditions. Unfortunately, his weaknesses are the very ones the Lakers need to address moving forward. It is impossible to imagine playing Marshall big minutes alongside a Kobe Bryant entering his 19th season. Mike D’Antoni has often tried to hide Marshall in cross matchups, but that will be all but impossible with Bryant in the lineup next season. Marshall is a great passer and floor leader, but he is a luxury that the Lakers should only revisit if a young stud point guard isn’t available to them in the draft or they are unable to sign a more established player like Kyle Lowry or Avery Bradley. Finding a defensive athlete at point guard capable of creating turnovers and delivering ball pressure is priority number one.
Meeks has had the best season of his career. With starters minutes this season, he’s 14th in the league among shooting guards in scoring. He has made improvements to his game in numerous areas as well. So why are we saying goodbye? Meeks is on an expiring veteran’s minimum deal and will receive a big raise from someone. For the Lakers’ Meeks is valuable but not at $4 or $5 million, which he could fetch on the open market. Shooters are in demand. Secondly, in the long term, a player like Henry is younger and has greater potential.
The Lakers’ roster will most likely look familiar to this year’s team. The hope is that a rejuvenated Kobe Bryant, a top notch free agent, and a talented rookie will be enough to turn this core from an overmatched cellar dweller into a promising contender.
Time will tell.